Apple’s major “It’s show time” event was held today at Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino; here’s our summary of the highlights.
Having made a number of hardware announcements last week via press releases, it came as no surprise that Apple's focus for this event was new and upcoming services rather than new or updated hardware. There's a new TV and movie streaming service featuring original content commissioned by Apple; an updated TV app that better integrates third-party services; a news and magazines subscription service; a gaming subscription service; and a new Apple credit card.
Apple Video Initiatives
Invitations for today's event bore the tagline “It’s show time”, so it was no surprise that the headline announcements were the launches of Apple's new streaming video initiatives:a TV and movie streaming service featuring original content commissioned by Apple; and the integration of third-party subscription services directly into an upgraded TV app.
Apple TV+: Apple’s New Streaming TV and Movie Service
Apple has reportedly invested upwards of $1 billion in commissioning and purchasing dozens of “family friendly” TV shows and movies over the past 18 months. Today, Apple gave us the first official news of some of what's coming to its new service.
Rather surprisingly, there was only a brief scissor reel featuring actual clips from a handful of upcoming shows, with Apple giving far more time to a video of several directors, writers, and actors talking about their work with Apple. Amongst those featured were M. Night …, J.J. Abrams, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Steven Spielberg. This was followed by a number of the artists involved in the upcoming shows appearing live on stage:
- Steven Spielberg introduced his new sci-fi show, a remake of Amazing Stories.
- Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell were on stage for “The Morning Show,” a series about the high-stakes world of morning news shows.
- Actor Jason Momoa is to star in “See” - reportedly Apple's most expensive commission to date - which is set in a world where the earth was devastated by a virus that left only a few million survivors, all of whom were left blind by the virus.
- Kumail Nanjiani spoke about his new show “Little America,” an anthology series inspired by the true stories of immigrants in the USA.
- Big Bird was on stage to promote “Helpsters,” a new pre-school show coming from Sesame Workshop which uses the ideas behind coding to solve problems.
- Director J.J. Abrams and composer Sara Bareilles talked about their upcoming series, “Little Voice,” the story of a woman who ultimately has to find her voice and herself through music. Bareilles also performed the theme song from the show live on stage.
Later in the event, Oprah came on stage and said that she has “joined forces with Apple because they’re the company that has reimagined how we communicate. I joined in order to serve this moment because the Apple platform allows me to do what I do in a whole new way.”
Oprah has two documentaries in the works for Apple: “Toxic Labor” on sexual harassment in the workplace and a second untitled piece on mental health. She also took the opportunity to announce a Book Club where Apple Stores stream a conversation with an author live across all Apple devices.
Apple closed off its presentation of the new Apple TV+ service with the bold claim that it “will be 'the destination for the highest quality originals' that will challenge and thrill, define and redefine our expectations”; with a focus on quality over quantity, and that the service will aim to create some of “the best stories ever told.”
Apple TV+ will launch this fall as an ad-free subscription service in 100+ countries; it will provide access to all of Apple’s original content via the TV app on Apple devices and on selected Smart TVs. All content will be exclusive to the service, and available online and for download. Pricing and full details on availability will be announced later this year.
We have reached out to Apple for information on the availability of audio description for its original content and will update this post with anything that we learn.
Upgraded TV App
The second facet to Apple’s streaming TV plans is an upgraded version of its TV app.
Previously, although the TV app presented users with aggregated content from third-party apps such as CBS; DirecTV Now; and Hulu, it would only play iTunes Movies and TV Shows. If you wanted to view content from any of the third-party services, you were redirected back to the provider's standalone app.
Today, we learned that the TV app is getting a major upgrade that offers better integration of third-party services and, as a result, a much improved user experience.
The upgraded TV app will continue to integrate bundle providers like Spectrum and PlayStation Vue, and streaming apps like Hulu. Complementing these existing options, however, will be a new feature Apple calls Channels, which are third-party video services that you can sign up for and watch content from without needing to leave the TV app. The channels available include CBS All Access, Starz, Showtime, HBO, Nickelodeon, Mubi, The History Channel Vault, and Comedy Central Now.
MacStories explains how channels differ from how integrated services worked previously in the TV app:
Channels work differently from how TV app-integrated services currently operate. Today, for example, if you find an HBO show in the TV app that you want to watch, you have to download the HBO app and sign up for HBO Now inside that app, then you can launch HBO content from the TV app and it will play inside HBO's own app – the TV app's only benefits are initiating playback and tracking your shows via the Up Next queue. When Channels launch, things will be much simpler for Channels-partnering services: when you find that HBO content you want to watch, you'll be able to sign up for HBO Now quickly and easily from inside the TV app and the video will play right from TV. There's no need to download or use a separate app at all.
Other highlights of the upgraded TV app include:
- The updated TV app will be available on iOS and tvOS in May.
- The Mac will gain a TV app for the first time this fall.
- Apple is launching the Apple TV app on Samsung TVs this spring, followed by Sony, LG, and Vizio some time later in the year. A TV app will also be coming to Roku and Amazon products.
- The upgraded TV app will use curation and machine learning to recommend new shows and movies to you.
Ahead of today's event, it had been anticipated that Apple would offer discounts to users who bundle multiple third-party video services together. For instance, users could subscribe to a ‘package’ of Starz and Showtime through the TV app at a cheaper rate than subscribing to each individually outside of the app. However, no mention was made of bundle pricing during the presentation. Instead, Apple said that “for some of us, the big bundle is more than we need. So, we designed a new TV experience. Only pay for what you want.” This doesn't completely rule out the possibility that Apple may announce bundle pricing between now and the release of the upgraded TV app in May, but what's far more likely is that Apple has struggled to negotiate discounts from third-parties.
As widely anticipated, today's event saw the announcement of a paid subscription component to Apple News. Amongst the highlights of this new service are:
- Apple News+ will at launch offer access to 300 magazines across multiple categories. including fashion, news, lifestyle, health, travel, and food. Amongst the publications available are Vogue, Billboard, Popular Science, The New Yorker, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, and Fortune.
- The service includes digital subscriptions from publications like The Skimm, Vulture, Grub Street, The Cut, The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal.
- Apple News+ is in the standard News app, where it will appear as a tab if you have a subscription.
- Recommendations of titles and articles will be made upon your past reading. This uses your device's machine learning capabilities, so is performed on the device itself and not remotely by Apple.
- Apple does not record what you read, and will not allow advertisers to track your reading either.
Apple News+ is available from today in the US and Canada, with availability in the UK and Australia coming later this year. The first month is free, after which it will cost $9.99 per month. The subscription can be shared via Family Sharing at no additional cost.
When listening to the presentation, it appeared that content would use the Apple News format; which although it can have some VoiceOver issues, is a significant improvement on the scanned pages which have often been how magazines have made content available digitally in the past.
However, 6 Colors has subsequently indicated that the availability of Magazines in Apple News+ may not be the ‘immediate accessibility win’ that initially appeared to be the case:
Demoing Apple News+ on an iPhone rather than an iPad seems to be a careful choice to make it clear that this isn’t a digital replica like so many “magazine on iPad” efforts have been. The problem is, it seems like only about half of the magazines are in Apple News format rather than available as PDFs.
Apple News format articles are better in so many ways, including accessibility and readability on smaller devices. The PDF replicas are… less inspiring. Presumably Apple won’t bother recommending articles out of PDF replicas elsewhere in the News app, which suggests that Apple is very much trying to make it worth all the partners’ whiles to switch to the more flexible Apple News format.
However, with established and popular services such as NFB-NEWSLINE offering access to newspapers and magazines for anyone who is blind, low-vision, or otherwise print-disabled, it's likely that Apple News+ will have limited interest and value to blind and low vision readers anyway.
Apple Arcade: Gaming Becomes a Subscription Service
Apple also announced Apple Arcade, a new games subscription service that provides access to more than 100 new and exclusive games from companies such as Disney, Sega, Lego, Cartoon Network, and Konami. Rather than pay up front for each game, your subscription will allow you to download and play any Apple Arcade game on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV.
Games will be available offline, so you can play anywhere. There will be no in-app purchases and no ads.
Apple Arcade will be available this fall in over 150 countries. No pricing was given, but Apple did state that the service would support Family Sharing.
Much like Apple News+, it is hard to imagine that Apple Arcade will be of significant interest to blind users - as the games available are almost all likely to be completely inaccessible with VoiceOver.
Considering Apple's stated commitment to accessibility, it would have been welcome to have seen VoiceOver support be a requirement for games to be included in Apple Arcade. However, knowing the types of games which are most popular with iOS gamers - and thus the games which will draw users to this new service - hoping for such a requirement was always likely to be unrealistic.
Apple Card: Transforming the Credit Card
The final new initiative from Apple is its branded credit card, with Apple saying that it's “learned a lot about credit cards, but there are some things that could be so much better, like simplifying applications, eliminating fees, lowering interest rates, offering a clear rewards program, and security and privacy.”
Apple has partnered with Goldman Sachs and MasterCard on a credit card that it says focuses on simplicity, transparency, and privacy. Apple Card offers a number of features that Apple says will transform the credit card experience, including:
- Sign up on iPhone and get your card in just minutes rather than having to wait for a physical card.
- You can use Apple Card worldwide anywhere Apple Pay is accepted.
- The iOS Wallet app has all new capabilities so you can see what you spent, where you spent it, and when your payment is due.
- You can get help with your Apple Card right in Messages if you need to review transactions, update your address, and more.
- Apple Card uses machine learning and Apple Maps so you will always know specific details about each of your purchases.
- Every time you use Apple Pay with your iPhone or Apple Watch with the Apple Card, you get 2% back in “Daily Cash” (or 3% “Daily Cash” when making purchases from Apple).
- Apple Card will clearly show you how much interest you’re going to pay if you choose to pay your balance over time.
- Apple Card shows a range of payment options and calculates interest in real time.
- There are flexible payment option so you can pay weekly or biweekly instead of monthly to cut down on costs.
- Apple Card has no fees. No late fees, no international fees, no annual fees, and no over-limit fees.
- Apple Card features a new level of privacy and security. A per-device card number is created and stored safely in the Secure Element, a special security chip used by Apple Pay.
- All purchases are authenticated by Face ID or Touch ID, and Apple has no idea what you bought, where you bought it, or how much you paid. No data is shared with third-party companies for marketing.
- For places that don’t accept Apple Pay, Apple has created a physical Apple Card credit card you can use. The card is titanium and your name is laser etched on it. There’s no card number on it, no signature, no CVV. Apple says that this physical card is more secure than other credit cards.
- When you make a purchase using your physical card, you get 1% “Daily Cash” back.
Apple Card will be available in the US this summer.
Last but not least, Apple announced the public releases of iOS 12.2, macOS Mojave 10.14.4, tvOS 12.2, and updated software for HomePod.
What Was Missing
Following on from last week's announcements of new iPad Air and iPad mini models, iMac refresh, and the launch of the second generation AirPods, it came as no surprise that today's event had no hardware news. It remains to be seen if or when Apple's long overdue AirPower wireless charging mat will be released; or if the iPod Touch will be refreshed.
Also notable by its absence, was any mention of Apple offering bundle options for its new services. However, as pricing was not confirmed for a number of these services, it is possible that Apple will announce bundle pricing once all of the services are available.
Which of today's announcements most excited or disappointed you? Do you plan to sign up for any of the subscription services? Let us know in the comments below!